Ax, Kavakos & Ma at Carnegie Hall – Beethoven

Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral) [arranged by Shai Wosner for piano trio]
Piano Trio in B-flat, Op.11 (Gassenhauer)
Piano Trio in D, Op.70/1 (Ghost)

Emanuel Ax (piano), Leonidas Kavakos (violin) & Yo-Yo Ma (cello)

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 8 March, 2022
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Prior to this evening, Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma last performed together at Carnegie Hall on March 4, 2020, with a Beethoven program, eight days before the venue closed for eighteen months due to the pandemic. Now the threesome was back with more Beethoven, preceded by the Ukrainian National Anthem. The audience sprang to its feet and stood in unity during the poignant rendition.

Following which the ensemble launched into a charming and wonderfully intimate interpretation of Shai Wosner’s 2021 arrangement of the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony. (Wosner was present.) From the very first notes of the nimbly paced opening Allegro (‘Awakening of Cheerful Feelings on Arriving in the Country’) the extraordinary rapport among these players was apparent as they expressively blended their sounds while maintaining their individuality in a playful and sensitive three-part conversation. Their musical camaraderie was most evident in the third-movement Scherzo (‘Merry Gathering of Country Folk’), and the final Allegretto (‘Shepherd’s Song: Cheerful and Thankful Feelings after the Storm’), where they were always engaged and totally in sync as they built up to an exhilarating climax. 

Following intermission the ‘Gassenhauer’ Trio. Originally scored for clarinet, piano and cello, the piece takes its title from its ‘theme and variations’ Finale, based on a popular terzetto from a now-forgotten comic opera by Joseph Weigl, Haydn’s godson. The opening of the second-movement Adagio was gently shaped and followed by playing of even more delicacy. The Finale came off as a highly animated affair.

The mostly sunny program ended with an eloquent performance of the ‘Ghost’ Trio, its exceedingly eerie Largo sandwiched between a brisk and breathless Allegro and a Presto taken about as fast as fingers allow, its final bars abounding in joy.For an encore, further Beethoven: an amiable interpretation of the third movement of the Piano Trio in E-flat, Opus 70, ending an evening of congenial and beautifully executed music-making.

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